The Burning Chasuble: how it came about

16 Jul

I think the genesis of the book came from the wastelands of the end of the eighties and the very early nineties. I was living in London at the time, and I had a dream where a girl I was dating at the time was sucking liquid heroin out of her female friend’s hair. At around the same time, in the real world,  I was approached in the street by a religious cultist trying to recruit me to their cult. We had an interesting conversation about life, society and the alienation felt by many people in this modern world.  I never joined the cult, of course; I didn’t even go on their famous ‘introductory’ weekends. But the legacy of this meeting was that I had to ask myself:  why did this guy pick on me? Was there something lost about my look?

The result of this period was the book in its first incarnation. I originally called it Lazarus’ Kingdom and it was written very quickly in the period I describe. It was the simple story of someone who is recruited to a religious cult, brainwashed by them, but not 100% effectively, because he changes his mind and then escapes. What made it different, I suppose, was the lashings of non-religious horror fantasy that I incorporated into it.

I am also a child of the Cold War; my Mum and Dad travelled for their jobs and I lived in Poland for four years as a child, and also saw Ceausescu’s Romania first-hand. I read spy thrillers by the likes of Le Carre, Deighton, and most importantly, Graham Greene. I saw compassion and  warmth in Greene’s work in spite of the riveting pared-down plainness of his style. And I saw Greene as a left-wing Catholic who was constantly questioning his conversion to the church.

Which leads me to Catholicism. I was brought up as a Catholic, but I have always been very uneasy with it, and have been an agnostic since I was about 14. Unlike the protagonist of The Burning Chasuble, I certainly never felt any vocation, though just by watching priests at work I had a glimpse of what motivated these people to preach. I saw the teaching side of it, or perhaps the lecturing side of it.

I now live in Poland more or less permanently, and so it was a natural thing for me to set the book in two Polands: the contemporary one and  the Cold War one.

I found Lazarus’ Kingdom again about five years ago, languishing in a drawer, so to speak. I picked it up and decided that combining the ideas (I copied absolutely nothing from that original manuscript) with the love story I already had in mind was the direction in which I was going to go. And so, over five years,  this morphed into a combination- the parallels between religious cults and old communism, a thriller, a murder mystery and a small dash of science fiction/ fantasy, not to mention a love story.  If you, gentle reader of this blog, have any questions to ask I shall try to answer them without giving anything away.



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